Covid-19: A year on

By Otago Daily Times | Posted: Thursday March 4, 2021

The Otago Daily Times recently covered Logan Park's first experience with Covid-19.

Read the February 2021 ODT news article below: 

School bombshell meant action stations

On March 6 2020 Logan Park High School co-principals Kristan Mouat and Peter Hills were among a group of Dunedin school leaders given a briefing about a potential pandemic disease.

"We knew it was on the horizon; we knew that it was potentially going to have an impact," Ms Mouat said.

"What we didn’t know was that we were going to be the first school in New Zealand to get it."

On March 8, a parent of a Logan Park pupil came home from a work trip to Europe with an unwanted reminder of his travels — the man was Dunedin’s first case of Covid-19.

Six days later he started to feel unwell and pressed his GP for a Covid-19 test , and kept his son home while he awaited the result.

When it came back positive, Ms Mouat and Mr Hills were suddenly in the eye of a storm.

"We couldn’t have asked for a better family to get it because they withdrew their kid as soon as they knew the test was happening," Mr Hills said.

"They were excellent, gave great co-operation with contact tracing and did exactly what they were supposed to do."

The first inkling the co-principals had of what was about to unfold came late on Monday, March 16, when a music teacher told them that a pupil had said a family member was going to have a test.

The next day the pupil stayed away from school, and at that morning’s assembly health messages such as frequent hand-washing were reinforced.

At 11am the Ministry of Health called to say the test was positive.

Southern public health staff arrived at the school almost immediately afterwards for a closed-door meeting with Ms Mouat and Mr Hills.

The first issue for the school came almost immediately when the co-principals were told they could not immediately tell their community.

"We had to wait until 3pm when [director-general of health] Ashley Bloomfield made the formal announcement to the country," Ms Mouat said.

"That was challenging for Peter and me because we really do try to run on transparent communication and we trust our staff, but we weren’t able to do that."

What the delay did offer was enough time for Mr Hills to use the school’s electronic roll system and CCTV footage to give an invaluable head start in establishing who the pupil’s close contacts were.

"There was a lot to do in a short amount of time," Mr Hills said.

"Our first thoughts were look after our troops and our wider community and we knew this was going to cause a lot of stress for a lot of people."

That was partly because of how involved in school life the pupil who tested positive was.

"It turned out that you couldn’t have a more active, involved person in the school, so there was quite a lot of scurrying around required."

Fortunately for the co-principals, school gets out at 3.25pm at Logan Park, meaning they had 20 minutes to email all pupils, teachers, staff, parents and caregivers, just as Dr Bloomfield was dropping his bombshell, and advising that the school would close immediately.

"[SDHB medical officer of health] Susan Jack told us that Ashley Bloomfield had advised that, so we knew early on that we would be shutting down the school for 48 hours the next day," Ms Mouat said, adding that the school itself decided to stay closed on the Friday.

As the news filtered through the worried and widely spread community — Logan Park has 700 pupils who live as far afield as Palmerston and Milton — WellSouth established a pop-up clinic for Covid-19 testing at Forsyth Barr Stadium, and school staff began to ring 150 people who it was felt needed urgent testing.

"If you were wondering how many people you might come into contact with over the course of a day, or semi-close to, that was a big part of the school, and no-one had gone through that process before," Mr Hills said.

"It was like our kids were in some kind of science fiction film," Ms Mouat said.

"There they were waiting in cars to get tested by all these people with masks on and protective gear — it was surreal."

The school began emailing its community twice daily, but soon discovered such mass mailouts exceeded its data capacity.

Despite such setbacks, Ms Mouat and Mr Hills kept up a steady stream of communications as they discovered what a deep clean was and what would be required to reopen on Monday.

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gazumped their plans by moving New Zealand to Alert Level 3 in the interim, and shortly after to Level 4.

Like all schools, Logan Park was suddenly distance learning — but unlike every other school it had not had three days to prepare staff and pupils for the shift.

"We were worried about the students, especially the younger ones," Ms Mouat said.

"But they proved to be very resilient, and the seniors stepped up too."

When Logan Park’s pupils finally got back to school several weeks later they were champing at the bit — all but 10 attended on day 1.

Teachers, staff and children all had their tales to tell of a significant shared moment for everybody at the school, the handling of which has been a model for subsequent cases in schools.